4.432 / 4.433
Modeling Urban Energy Flows for Sustainable Cities and Neighborhoods

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UG: Register for 4.432
G: Register for 4.433

If you are an architect or planner and have sometimes wondered how to introduce energy efficiency, daylight access, and thermal comfort in your urban designs or planning proposals, this is the right course for you. It mainly is oriented to students who have already taken some class in building environmental technology (Such as 4.401, 4.464, 4.42J, 2.66J, 4.424J or 2.52J) and especially to those with interests and skills in urban design and planning. However, a basic introduction will be provided to most topics and ideally groups will have students with both technical and design skills, so the class is open to the whole institute. Prospective students who have not taken 4.401/4.464 should contact the instructors before the beginning of class and join us for the first lecture.

The United Nations estimates that the number of city-dwellers worldwide will grow until 2030 at a net rate of about two million per week. In parallel, greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high. Unless we dramatically reduce current emission rates, we will experience an increase of more than 2oC in global mean temperature along with unmanageable sea level rises. In response to those global challenges, city governments world-wide have developed ambitious long-term GHG emission reduction targets such as 60% by 2025 (San Francisco) or 80% by 2050 (New York City and Boston). In addition, resiliency measures are being put in place to face extreme storm, flood and heat wave events, which largely affect urban decision making.

With buildings being responsible for 40% or more of most countries’ GHG emissions, city planners and municipal governments worldwide are working on strategies for energy efficiency and more sustainable urban developments and redevelopments. Apart from being resource efficient, next-generation sustainable neighborhoods need to provide their residents with indoor and outdoor comfort conditions including access to daylight, feature high-quality public spaces and streetscapes as well as support human-powered transportation. How can architects, urban designers and planners account for these diverse issues in their proposals?

The primary focus of this subject is the study and simulation of energy and material flows in and around groups of buildings for a specific climate, and their impact on urban design and planning. Students will learn about emerging digital techniques for environmental simulations, and develop skills for their application in decision making. Such techniques will allow them to analyze, quantify and influence multiple environmental aspects of the built environment, including operational building energy use and carbon emissions, embodied energy use, access to daylight as well as walkability and outdoor comfort at the neighborhood scale. All metrics will be applied in specific design interventions with the investigated scales ranging from individual buildings to neighborhoods that include hundreds of buildings. Students will work in groups on sustainability concepts for three neighborhoods located in Boston, Lisbon and Kuwait City.

A fundamental focus of the course, addressed throughout the semester, is the impact of the urban microclimates on the built environment. Students will learn to appreciate, as a main learning objective, that in dense urban settings buildings strongly interact with each other, thus creating microclimates that significantly alter their energy use and comfort from what it would be if they were placed sufficiently far away from each other. Microclimatic effects, which students will learn how to model, include shading from neighboring buildings, localized wind patterns, and urban overheating or “urban heat island effect”. Furthermore, predicted climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the coming 70 years will be simulated as well, enabling students to evaluate their projects under current and future climate scenarios.

Additional work is required of students taking the graduate version.

Projects in 4.432